1. HollyWriter
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    HollyWriter New Member

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    Is this a stereotype?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by HollyWriter, Mar 13, 2012.

    I'm afraid one of my main characters may be stereotype :( Is this ever okay?

    First, some background...my protagonist ends up being a famous singer/songwriter, but not by aspiration. Instead, she deals with some tough things and meets people along the way who propel her into that lifestyle (and all the bad stuff that goes with it). One pivotal character is a black saxophone/piano/guitar player who speaks with a Jamaican accent and performs at an underground jazz club. I've made him this way because:

    1. He speaks very bluntly to her. He is a sort of father figure, so his speech must come off as matter-of-fact, but not too rude and not too loving. Hence, he starts sentences with "You..." and "See here, girlie..." but even though it's delivered harshly, it is also endearing.
    2. He needs to be artistic to encourage her to get into the business. He's also spiritual, which plays into the protag's character arc.
    3. His playing in an underground club introduces the protag to a lifestyle that is eventually her undoing (i.e. drugs). She is a girl from Connecticut, so she isn't going to go into an undergroud jazz club unless she has a reason to. And he has to be laid-back enough to let her hang herself, but stern enough to give her warnings and bring her down from the rope when she doesn't listen.

    BTW, he's black only because of the Jamaican accent. Any thoughts? Am I shooting myself in the foot for having a Jamaican Jazz player in my book, regardless of how round his is? There is obviouly a lot more to this character than I can go into here...

    If this is a stereotype, would it be a terrible thing to leave it be?

    Thanks in advance for your help!
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stereotypes are often stereotypes for a reason. As long as it isn't offensive a touch of a stereotype in a character can be good.

    I have an elegant gay man, one who likes listening to Kylie and has a female bestfriend, my Northern/Carribean Gran is tough, there is a rebellious teenager, a kindly uncle etc It is the story that then rounds them and makes them real people.
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Exactly. As long as you're not going out of your way to offend with the stereotypes, you're cool.

    There's an old saying that goes something like, "Stereotypes are not wrong, they're just incomplete." By this, I think it means that stereotypes only create flat images, not round ones.

    One of my protagonist is an American who's somewhat stereotypical. He's obsessed with guns of the 1800s and enjoys drinking beer while watching American football on TV on Friday nights, yet I make sure to give him traits that don't scream "STEREOTYPE"; make him more rounded and believeable. I tend to try and defy those stereotypes, but he apparently doesn't. (He'd probably devour two McDonald's hamburgers just to spite me...)

    I guess some poeple don't mind that they embody some stereotypes, because they know they're complex human beings, not caricatures.
     
  4. MeganHeld
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    MeganHeld Senior Member

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    I agree with the two other people. You are trying to not only create a character, but a type of a music and scene it feels like to me. You are establishing a sort of music that exists and is known for people being like that. I have stereotypical police officers and detectives in my story. Stereotypes were created by people for people to use properly and not too much.
     
  5. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    A lot of characters might sound stereotypical on the surface if you have to describe them in one sentence or one paragraph. My story has the nerdy bookish teenager who feels like a social reject, the mysterious inventor uncle, the quirky aunt, etc. It's the way you write them that makes them real people and not cliche cookie cut-outs.
     
  6. DaVinci
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    DaVinci Banned

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    I have never heard of black Jamaicans playing jazz as a stereotype. I don't know how many people would be aware of that stereotype.
     
  7. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Btw, there are white Jamaicans too, so I wonder if it is the reason why you chose him to be black, that feel false to you. Otherwise, reading your description, it doesn't really reek of stereotype too much, although he does remind a bit of Bleedin' Gums Murphy from the Simpsons :D
     
  8. Afion
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    Afion Senior Member

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    I think the biggest stereotype is jazz being involved with drugs. Of course if you're story is set in the 20th century, that would probably be right ;)
     
  9. HollyWriter
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    HollyWriter New Member

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    Thanks for all the helpful comments! I read somewhere online that we all categorize people into stereotypes, whether in real life or when we read books and watch TV. This is because of the way our brain works; we process information from our existing frame of reference. And so, purposely writing an oddball character to avoid a stereotype could be actually be worse by making him unidentifiable to the reader.

    Jazzabel, now I'm not going to be able to write my jazz player without picturing Bleedin' Gums Murphy lol ;)

    And Afion, I agree, the drugs probably are the biggest stereotype here. But it is set in the late 90's and part of his arc is that he cleans up by 2008. Plus, he's a high-class druggie...he thinks it's okay because he's not robbing people or buying from street dealers...ugh, that's another sterotype, isn't it? Arrrrghhh! ;)
     
  10. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Again it is a stereotype because there a lot of people who take drugs with the attitude because they work and are middle class it is OK.
     
  11. HollyWriter
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    HollyWriter New Member

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    Good point, Elgaisma...things become cliches and stereotypes because there is some truth to them!
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Haha, awww, sorry :D
     
  13. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can defuse the stereotype by giving your character an additional trait which is astereotypical. E.g, a Jamaican jazz player who wears a costume and is running for political office. Or a Jamaican jazz player who, besides being artistic and spiritual, has a problem with being pedantic and obsessed with details. Or a Jamaican jazz player whose biggest interest, besides music, is model trains.

    Well... I don't know if any of those fits your character, but you get the idea.
     
  14. HollyWriter
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    HollyWriter New Member

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    Thanks Islander, that helps! He does have blond hair. And he's a good cook...Not exactly what you'd expect from a musician who shoots heroin and hangs out in underground clubs.
     
  15. TheSilverBeetle
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    TheSilverBeetle Member

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    I think that some stereotypes are okay because we as humans usually fall into them ourselves.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd like him better if he had some major characteristic or background element that is unexpected for the stereotype. My first random thought is that he graduated from Oxford or Cambridge.
     

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